Earlier this month, the Limousines walked onto the Subsonic Tent stage at Live 105’s BFD at Shoreline for the fifth consecutive year. This time, however, they were a far cry from the duo that first went viral and gained national attention in 2009 with poppy hooks tailor-made for the meme generation.
Their electronic-pop sound and instrumentation remain intact, but the lyrics and tone of the new material has evolved into more emotional territory. Of the 10 songs the Limousines played, eight came from their upcoming sophomore album, Hush, set for digital release on June 6 and to be celebrated with a party at Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco.
“We were there to show them who we’ve become,” says vocalist Eric Victorino. “We wanted to make that one statement that we’ve changed a lot.”
Over the past five years, the Limousines have, in fact, changed a lot while also remaining San Jose’s biggest, most nationally recognized band still releasing music.
The Limousines first hit the scene with the brilliant pop gem “Very Busy People,” a song Victorino likes to say is about “jerking off to Tumblr” but is really a smart commentary on the information overload that everyone is experiencing in the age of the Internet and smartphones. The song made it on the radio, bringing them more national exposure than they ever expected to garner.
The clever existentialism continued on their debut LP, Get Sharp, first released independently in 2010 but then reissued on Dangerbird Records later in the year. It featured the fun, self-reflective single “Internet Killed the Video Star.” The track hit a million views on YouTube and brought the band an international fan base.
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Hush, funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign that more than doubled the band’s goal when it reached $75,000, opens with a mood we have not yet experienced with the Limousines. “Love Is a Dog From Hell” describes the thrill of a first kiss but cautions that love is unpredictable and complex once the door is opened.
“We wanted to write songs that we could perform as adults for the rest of our lives,” Victorino says. “I can see being 45 years old and singing ‘Love Is a Dog From Hell.’ The old stuff had a short shelf life. I can’t see myself being 40 and singing a song about Tumblr.”
The album talks about love from a multitude of angles, which range from painfully honest to almost clichéd in their deliberate lack of witticisms. Unlike a lot of music other bands have written about love, Hush taps into the reality of what love actually feels like and not a fantasy image of love.
“Ninety percent of the record is about all the best parts and the worst parts and the middle parts of what loving somebody is all about,” Victorino explains.
In “Little Space,” for instance, Victorino talks about his own challenges with intimacy. “It’s hard to be loved and to hate yourself at the same time,” Victorino tells me. “It’s hard to feel like you don’t deserve love. That’s where a lot of the songs I wrote from my perspective are coming from.”
On “Bed Bugs,” he wrote about bandmate Giovanni Giusti. Victorino had watched him experience the heartbreak of falling in love with someone who didn’t reciprocate the feeling.
Complementing the lyrical shift on Hush is a new depth in production that brings a more multilayered sound to the new songs. The beats laid down by Giusti, who also mixed the record himself, have a more distinctly ’80s sound than Get Sharp, and it won’t be hard to get crowds to dance to them. Retro, however, it is not.
“I remember stuff on Get Sharp, I was making beats in my mom’s sewing room,” Giusti says. “That was so long ago, my production has changed 100 percent.”
The fact that it took three years to release a follow-up to Get Sharp seemed a mystery to fans, but behind the scenes Victorino and Giusti were reeling from personal tragedies and problems with their label. Since getting out of their record deal, they’ve been very candid about the degree to which Dangerbird didn’t deliver on anything it had promised. In that time, several close friends of Victorino and Giusti passed away.
In 2011, the band’s success continued to climb while Victorino bottomed out emotionally. Struggling with bipolar disorder, he attempted to end his life and was eventually hospitalized. He wrote about the entire incident in his book, Trading Sunshine for Shadows.
“To have eight of your friends die in less than two years, in separate instances, it’s pretty fucking strange. You can’t go write ‘Very Busy People’ again after that. You can’t go be happy. Things change,” Victorino says.
The only song to make it on to Hush from the early demos was “Haunted,” about not being able to stop thinking about someone. Of all the band’s songs, “Haunted” marks the biggest change in direction for the Limousines.
When Victorino sat down to write the lyrics for Get Sharp, he methodically assembled clever stanzas, played with rhyme schemes and remained fully aware of the meaning behind each line. “Haunted” was different.
“I was walking, and all the words just came into my head,” Victorino recalls. “I called Gio, and I told him, ‘I have to come over, and we have to work on it.’ I just blurted the song out. I get chills thinking about it now. We were both really moved by the outpouring of it.”
At the time, the meaning of the words were a mystery to Victorino—something he hadn’t allowed himself to do with the Limousines, though he did do so years earlier with his previous band, Strata.
“I used to never think about the words, because I grew up worshiping Kurt Cobain and watching all his interviews and knowing that most of the time he didn’t know what he was talking about, but he knew it was coming from somewhere. And it was just as valid. It doesn’t matter where it’s coming from,” Victorino says.
This experience shaped Hush, allowing it to be an album that came from their hearts and not their heads. Rather than being clever or sarcastic, Hush is honest and vulnerable.
Over three years, Victorino and Giusti also got to know each other a lot better. They previously recorded all their songs by emailing tracks back and forth to each other and never working in the same room together. With Hush, working in the studio together has allowed them to discuss ideas and be much more collaborative.
“I think now that we’ve gotten to know each other, we’ve come close enough and worked together as artists, it’s OK for him to see my process, and it’s OK for me to see his,” Victorino says. “It used to be a mystery. I never even saw him make music before. I had no idea how he did it.”
It took several months after they’d received the money via Kickstarter before their songwriting really clicked. While Hush is indeed darker than Get Sharp, they let go of the idea of making a “dark” album and instead went with their instincts and wrote an album mostly about love. Then the album poured out.
“We thought we were working before. It wasn’t until that last period where we were like, ‘Oh we’re really working on this thing.’ It’s kind of funny because in a way we were working on it for two or three years, and in another way we weren’t working on it until a couple months ago,” Victorino says.
So far, the Limousines have gotten positive responses from “Love Is a Dog From Hell,” released a week ago, and they’re optimistic about the rest of album.
“The fact that it was funded by Kickstarter or whatever is going to be a footnote,” Victorino says. “The big feat wasn’t raising that money. The feat was that we morphed from one type of band to another successfully and made a great record.”